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Bush's Redefinition of Transatlantic Relations

Despite the NATO Summit: Europe is no longer at the heart of American Security Policy

28.05.2002 · Wolfgang Bücherl

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Whether in Germany or in Russia, in France or in Italy, wherever George W. Bush's trip took him, one thing became obvious: Between the United States and Europe nothing is, as it once was. The list of transatlantic disputes may have already been opened in the 90's under the Clinton Administration and long before - one only has to think of the trade squabbles that have stretched over the years- but it was the day of September 11, 2001, which has brought about a fundamental change in security policy. The principle, after which Europe's security policy is naturally linked to that of the United States, has definitely lost its binding force.

September 11th forced the Americans to take a closer look at themselves. Painfully though, they came to realize that they couldn't live on an island of security and that they could be just as vulnerable as all the other people in this world. This realization has lead "the benign hegemon" to redefine its security interests more closely, namely with a focus on strong national priorities. Before September 11th, the protection of its population from weapons of mass destruction and terrorists was one of many tasks of the US government. Today, it has advanced to top priority.

Unlike the European states, the Americans, due to their military and economic capacities and their political supremacy, can afford to pursue this interest world wide, even acting alone. As a consequence, alliances serve more to safeguard American activity, than to develop of a strategy for common action. The Europeans, therefore, complain about American unilateralism. The American government, however, speaks of an effective strategy to reach its goals. All this is not entirely new. For decades, we have recognized that the United States always has a tendency to act unilaterally when there are fundamental divergences in interests in transatlantic relations. These differences have obtained a new quality since September 11th: the essence of transatlantic relations has changed, as European security is no longer naturally tied to that of the United States. On September 11th, the Americans faced a new kind of threat, which the Europeans- at least up to date- can comprehend only with difficulty. This experience differentiates Bush's critics in the USA and in Europe. The conviction, that the USA was attacked and for this reason has the right to counteract, unites the Americans, even when all do not necessarily share Bush's means and rhetoric. In this sense, Bush's trip was also an attempt, not only to advertise his policies, but also to bring America's new state of mind closer to the Europeans.

As a new basis for transatlantic relations, Bush offered the Europeans a wholly American vision, "the defense of civilization." So the transatlantic relationship is no longer about defending the EU but rather about defending western values. Following this rationale, the foundation of the "NATO-Russian-Council" is one crucial step to include Russia in this vision. Another part of this vision is the approved NATO expansion, which could account for up to seven new members and would stretch the organization further to the south and southwest. Following these ideas, NATO could become a system of collective security, namely a primarily political alliance, which would support the USA in its Anti-Terror-Operation.

As in how far the goal of "defending the civilization" will become as a new basis for transatlantic relations, will not depend on the consent about the values themselves, as these are shared in Europe. Rather it will depend on whether the Europeans and the Americans, based on their common values, will be in a position to develop instruments and strategies for coordinated action, this being within or outside the realms of NATO. Such coordinated action is complicated, due partially to inner-European differences of opinion, so the dispute could remain a constant element in transatlantic relations.

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